Engler: ESPN’s MSU report ‘a sensationalized package’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State interim president John Engler defended basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday while calling a recent ESPN report “a sensationalized package.”

In a letter to Michigan State students and faculty, the former Michigan governor gave updates on several ongoing investigations surrounding the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. Nassar is the former MSU doctor who was sentenced in recent weeks for years of assault on women and girls, some Michigan State students.

Near the end of the letter, Engler addressed an ESPN report that questioned how the basketball and football programs have responded to cases of sexual assault and violence toward women.

“Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar,” Engler wrote in the letter. “This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.”

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The report was published on Jan. 26, just hours after athletic director Mark Hollis announced he was stepping down. That came two days after university president Lou Anna K. Simon resigned.

Hours after the report was released, Dantonio spoke to the media at the Breslin Center and adamantly denied the part of the report that said he handled at least one of the cases on his own.

“I have received many questions and inquiries about today’s reports, or the latest reports,” Dantonio said before Michigan State’s basketball game against Wisconsin that night. “I’m here tonight to say that any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false.

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“Every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with cases of sexual assault. We have always had high standards in this program and that will never change. The values that we teach to everyone in this program will be enforced.”

It’s been Dantonio’s only comment on the report. Izzo, on the other hand, has not issued any denials and has chosen not to answer any direct questions related to the report.

Last week at Indiana, Izzo said he hoped to address the report soon.

“I really don’t know,” Izzo said after a Michigan State victory. “I looked at it and I thought about it and I looked at all the multiple ongoing investigations with which we’ve cooperated with fully. I just think it’s inappropriate for me to say anything right now. Our whole focus has really, cause I’m trying to keep things on the up and up, our whole focus has been the healing process for the survivors, the healing process for our university and our community and for me to coach our basketball team. So, I don’t have a date, but the day will come sometime. I promise.”